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Rated: 13+ · Chapter · Action/Adventure · #2317618
In which Kai is introduced to Talay and finds out how many muscles are in his arms
“You gave Jet your LINE?” Mali sounds more excited than Kai thinks she should.
Kai rolls his eyes. “It’s not that big a deal.”
“So you volunteered?” Mali leans forward. “He didn’t wrestle it out of you?”
Kai also leans forward. “Mali.”
“Stop smirking at me.”
Kai’s sister is sitting at their usual table in the outdoor quad when Kai gets to campus, freshly changed and showered, with protesting muscles and final exam nerves. Since she doesn’t have any reason to be on campus today, Kai is certain that Mali is there just to check up on him.
Or to check on the progress of the mending of Kai and Jet’s relationship.
Or both.
Either way, Kai lets his older sister interrogate him about all of his activities last night and this morning, including the wrestling match with Jet in his dorm room and the subsequent trip to the gym and the lunch afterwards. It’s good to have a temporary distraction.
Mali doesn’t stop smirking. “Sister’s privilege. What did Jet do to earn your LINE ID?”
“You make it sound like a business transaction,” Kai grumbles.
“Well, what else am I supposed to call putting a deadline on spending time with someone?” Mali looks genuinely curious. “Why only a month?”
Kai shrugs.“Jet just said Christmas, so I--”
“Figured you could last thirty days and get it over with?”
“Stop finishing my sentences, Mali.”
“It’s easy to do because you’re so predictable.” Mali’s gaze sweeps over Kai’s face, and then down to his hands. “Did he beat you into submission and you lost?”
“Of course not,” Kai sticks his hands under the table, wincing as his arm muscles protest the movement. “This is from the gym. That’s where I went with Jet this morning. I’m fine, Mali, don’t fuss!”
“I’m allowed to worry about you.”
Kai rolls his eyes. “You’re the second person to tell me that today. I’ll tell you the same thing I told Jet.”
“That you can take care of yourself? Tell me something I don’t know.” Mali’s smile is understanding this time, rather than teasing. “I’m glad you’re spending time with Jet, even if it has a deadline.”
The word “deadline” makes Kai’s conscience twinge. “He’s not that bad.”
“I told you that,” Mali says. “I’m glad you finally believe me.”
“I never said I didn’t believe you.” Kai points out.
“It’s just easier to stay mad?”
“Mali, stop saying what I’m thinking!”
“Stop making every thought you have show up on your face, then.” Mali’s own face becomes more serious. “Jet really wants to be a part of your life. All you have to do is let him in.”
“I know,” Kai’s conscience twinges again. “I’m trying.”
By some miracle, Kai was able to ignore the growing pain in his arms long enough to sit through his last final exam. His muscles protest for the rest of the day, and not just the ones in his arms. Both his wrists and his hands ache in ways he didn't think were possible, and little purple bruises start to appear on and around his knuckles. The moment he walks out of the testing center, he starts applying the bruise cream and stops to buy painkillers on the way back to his dorm. Zone looks up as Kai comes through the door.
“If you tell me how I look, I’ll smack you,” Kai says before Zone can speak.
“Actually, I was going to ask you where you’d been all day, since I thought training sessions lasted only an hour or so.” Zone’s gaze drops to the gym bag in Kai’s hands. “Where did you get that?”
“Jet bought it for me.” Kai drops the bag on the floor. “He bought me lunch, too, before I took my last final.”
Zone’s eyebrow shoots up at Kai’s deliberately casual tone. “You said ‘Jet’, not ‘asshole’.”
“I can say my brother’s name if I want to.” Kai isn’t looking at Zone as he puts away his gym bag. “Especially if I’m forced to spend an entire month with him.”
“What does that mean?” Now both Zone’s eyebrows are up, and they stay up as Kai explains the deal that he and Jet made. “So what happens at Christmas? Jet leaves? Or he stays?”
Kai doesn’t say anything. He doesn’t like that Zone voiced exactly what he was thinking. Part of him is sure that he knows the answer, but he doesn’t want to think about that right now. Zone doesn’t press him as Kai goes into the bathroom and shuts the door. The food he’d had earlier helped a little bit, but now his muscles are screaming so much that all he wants now is to soak in another hot shower and sleep.
Which he does, until his EDM ringtone jolts him awake. In the opposite bed, Zone shifts, muttering in his sleep. Kai grabs his phone before the noise can disturb his friend, answering the call without even looking at the caller ID.
“Get up,” Jet’s voice sounds too loud in Kai’s ears. “I’m waiting downstairs.”
“Huh?” Kai pulls the phone away from his ear long enough to check the time. “Why the fuck did you call me at five am?”
“I didn’t know you used words like that.” Jet not only sounds fully awake, but faintly amused.
“Only around you.” Kai barely suppresses a groan. “The hell do you want?”
“We’re going for a run.”
“A run?” Kai buries his face into his pillow. “Now?”
“If you want to risk heat stroke by running when it’s thirty-two degrees outside that’s fine by me.”
“Asshole,” Kai grinds his teeth together. “I hate you so fucking much.”
“I know.” The amusement in Jet’s voice increases. “Stop swearing and come down here. Or do I need to come up there?”
“Give me five minutes.” This time Kai does groan. He hangs up and gets out of bed, careful not to wake Zone. Actually, his friend could sleep through anything short of an earthquake, but Kai was still sure that he would be less than happy about being awake this early.
Jet is waiting for him in front of the dorm, looking just as awake as he sounded on the phone. Instead of the slacks and shirt he usually wears, he's in a tank top and shorts. Kai can see a tattoo just above his elbow--one more thing he didn't know about his older brother.
Jet gives Kai the once over before cocking an eyebrow at him. "That's what you're going to run in?"
“If you’re going to make me leave my dorm at this hour,” Kai matches his brother eyebrow for eyebrow. “Then yeah, I’m running in my pajamas.”
“At least you’re not wearing slippers.” Jet mutters, glancing down at Kai’s new running shoes. “We’ll take it slow, since you need to break your shoes in to avoid blisters. Just a couple of kilometers today.”
Kai grunts in response. Everything from the waist up still hurts from yesterday, and he hasn’t run too much since physical education class in high school, so it’s probably better not to waste his time talking anyway. Jet drives them to Lumpini Park, an urban oasis in the usual chaos of the city.
They navigate through the winding paths with Jet setting the pace, past groups of locals, some running, some practicing yoga or Tai Chi, their graceful movements a sharp contrast to Kai’s clumsy footsteps. At first, all Kai can hear is the crunch of the gravel beneath his feet and the soothing melody of chirping birds.
The sounds of the city fade, and his feet begin to sync with the rhythm of his breath. Jet’s pace is still easy, but he stays just ahead of his younger brother. Kai isn’t sure if this is to encourage him to keep going or increase the pace. He drops his eyes to his moving feet, rather than try to figure how long or how far he has to run.
The muscles in his legs start to protest, but not as much as the ones in his arms. Sweat plasters his hair to his forehead and creates a wide circle of moisture on the back of his shirt. His heart is pounding so hard he can’t even hear his labored breathing. When they round another corner, Kai finally looks up to see the park opening up into a pond, its surface shimmering like glass under the morning sun.
Jet has halted next to the water, and Kai collapses, his chest heaving with exertion. He closes his eyes, tilting his head back as a cool breeze rises off the water, providing a brief respite from the oppressive heat. The breeze brings with it the aroma of both the flowers in the park and street food as the vendors set up their stalls. As his heartbeat returns to normal, Kai starts to hear the distant hum of traffic again.
A sudden weight on his shoulder makes Kai open his eyes.
“Not bad.” Jet is looking down at him. He’s also sweating, but not breathing as hard as Kai is.
Kai sucks air into his nose and then breathes out through his mouth in an effort to slow his heartbeat. “Was that really only a couple of kilometers?”
“Yeah,” There’s a smile on Jet’s face. “The better you get, the longer we’ll run.”
Kai wants to ask if Jet’s serious, but the look on his older brother’s face answers his question, so he asks something else instead. “Is this part of the ‘training outside the gym’ that Talay was talking about?”
“And an excuse to spend time with my little brother.” Jet sits down next to him. “You do know we have to run all the way back to the car, right?”
“You don’t seem to be in a hurry.”
“I’m not,” Jet’s eyes are on the pond, watching the breeze continue to stir up the water. “Mom and dad used to bring us here when we were little. I think I’m the only one old enough to remember.”
“I remember bits and pieces.” What Kai doesn’t say is that he remembers some bits and pieces more than others. But those bits and pieces aren’t ones he wants to talk about right now, and he’s sure that Jet doesn't want to either. “I don’t remember this, though.”
“We’d come every Saturday,” Jet’s voice is soft with memory. “Right here, actually. We’d go to the library first, then dad would rent a paddle boat, and we’d take turns going out on the water. Picnic lunch, and then go home. Same thing every week, until…”
“Until the accident,” Kai finishes for him. “I know. That day, I do remember.”
They’re both quiet for a minute. Kai glances sideways at Jet’s tattoo. Now that his older brother is sitting next him, and the sun has come up he can see it clearly: a blue snake, circling around Jet’s arm just above his elbow, and eating its own tail. “What is that?”
Jet follows Kai’s gaze, then raises his arm, so Kai can get a better look. “It’s an ouroboros. It means the cycle of birth and death.”
“I don’t remember you having a tattoo.”
“Well, no, you wouldn’t. I got it about six months ago,” Jet smiles at him. “Why do you ask?”
“Zone and his brothers have them, only it’s on their wrists.” Kai shrugs. “I was curious, but never asked them about it. So I thought I’d ask you.”
Another silence. Both have something to ask the other one, but neither is ready to do that, yet. Jet is the one who finally breaks the silence. He gets to his feet, extending a hand to help Kai stand, too.
Jet goes back to the condo after dropping Kai off at his dorm. He gets his laptop and inserts the SD card that Talay gave him. Part of him dreads what he’ll find, while the other half is full of anticipation.
Anticipation that drops when he sees the contents of the SD card.
On it is everything that Talay was able to find on Chalam. Jet will give him credit, the man had been thorough. The report starts out by saying OmniVentures and its business branches are one of the most successful companies in the city. Newspaper articles and publicity photos sing Chalam’s praises, while the CEO smiles broadly in every photo. Quotes from the articles paint Chalam as “a brilliant, caring philanthropist, generous and open-hearted, beloved by both public and employees alike.”
Talay has also included documentation that Chalam donates half of OmniVentures corporate profits to charity, with links to the website of each charity listed, and copies of the thank you notes and letters sent to Chalam upon receipt of the donations. A screenshot of a more recent post on the company’s main social media pages announces Chalam as the founder of two of the most philanthropic non-profits in the country, with a caption that states the company’s hope that OmniVentures will continue it’s benevolent work to help all who are in need.
Every single file is exactly the same, all painting the company and all of its employees in a positive light. Jet growls in frustration, his jaw getting tightening as he reads.
“I didn’t know my brother got a dog.” Kam’s voice makes Jet look up. The middle Manirat brother leans against the doorway, one eyebrow raised. “You ok?”
“Take a look at this and tell me if I’m ok,” Jet snaps, turning the laptop around.
“Oh good. Another set of files on a laptop,” Kam comes the rest of the way into the room and leans over the screen. “You get this info from Talay?”
“How did you know?”
“Lucky guess.” Kam looks up long enough to see the look on Jet’s face, so he elaborates. “He helped Bel and I when we got into some trouble. At least I know what I’m looking at this time.”
“A dead end?” Jet doesn’t bother to keep the frustration out of his voice. “Everyone in the country seems to be singing that damn shark’s praises.”
“I’m guessing you have a very good reason for going after one of the most benevolent philanthropists in the city?” The question is rhetorical, but Kam asks it anyway. “I’m not asking what that reason is, because it’s none of my business.”
“Thank you.”
“But,” Kam continues speaking as though Jet hadn’t said anything. “I’d like to help you, if you’ll let me.”
“Oh yeah?” Jet raises his eyebrows. “How?”
Kam smiles at him. “Come to Nightshade sometime.”
The invitation catches Jet off guard. “Why would coming to your nightclub help me?”
Kam returns the laptop to Jet. “You won’t know that unless you show up.”

"13. Tempering

Read from beginning: "1. Ignored
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